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Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Many of us witnessed on TV the recent spectacle of thousands of honorable American veterans tearing down metal barricades in Washington D.C. and heaving them into a scrap pile in front of the White House. They did it because they wanted access to the open-air war memorials which were closed because of the Government Shutdown. The vets and their supporters removed those barricades because they felt the government had no right to block the entrance to hollowed ground consecrated by their own sacrifices and the bloodshed of their fellow veterans who fought and died for our beloved country. My husband and I were with them in spirit. We actually would have been there in person for our very first protest since the sixties but we heard about it too late.

The veterans' barricade incident got me thinking about how human beings construct their own mental barriers...psychological barricades....and how these can be even more impenetrable than any 20 ton concrete abutment used to thwart terrorists from ramming a federal building.

We create psychological barricades in our minds to keep us emotionally safe. We build mental defense mechanisms out of FEAR. I think that the greatest commonality among all humans is fear. We tell ourselves that we're afraid of certain individuals or groups or beliefs or nationalities or political organizations because they will harm us....physically or emotionally or financially or spiritually. Of course, we all have a right to be afraid at times. It's a healthy, intelligent, natural instinct. However, I think that in some circumstances, we are not really afraid of each other. We're afraid of ourselves.

We're afraid we cannot stand up to the challenge of those who are not simpatico to our way of thinking. So we establish internal barricades. Many of us have self-limiting beliefs that we will feel more secure, more comfortable, even happier if we can hide behind psychological walls. Squirreled away behind our self-imposed, internal walls, we don't have to deal with specific people, conflicting emotions or difficult situations. It's a means to avoid rejection and conflict. It's a way to maintain control of our own lives, to make ourselves less vulnerable and to avoid taking risks. By barricading ourselves psychologically from the real world, it's not that we are keeping others out. We are actually burying ourselves....from experiencing life to the fullest. An emotional barricade prevents us from effective communication, reasonable discussion and open mindedness. 

To me, psychological barricades are what lie at the heart of most conflicts, resentments and hatreds. They are the stumbling blocks, the logjams, the emotional fortifications that stop us from reaching out, from carefully listening and from acknowledging others because we are afraid. We fear taking the risk.

Of course, we will never always agree with everybody. But wouldn't it be to our advantage if we tried to understand another point of view?  Listening is a lost art. We scream. We yell. We express our anger with vitriolic name calling and lies. We are indignant. Arrogant. We are rude. Obnoxious. And these are just the jackasses on Capitol Hill.  Oops....there I go name-calling.

Ironically, we often build the biggest psychological barricades to shut out or protect ourselves from our very own families.....people who are our loved ones....our blood kin. Typically family members either create outrageous drama because they demand to be in control or they hold back and won't voice an opinion because they don't want conflict. I'm not sure which is worse. Most families probably consist of both the control freaks and the "whatevers". I wish all relationships could be happy. But as Shakespeare may have said: "Life doth lack perfection."  Resentments build. Lies overcome truth. Egos erupt. We all know some people who get a perverse satisfaction from being negative and miserable. They seem to wallow in their unhappiness. Misery truly loves company. And try as hard as we might, sometimes the psychological barricades of others are too rigid and fraught with misconceptions to reach an understanding. So we move on. Over all these years, I've learned the importance of breaking down my own emotional barricades. I'll admit, a few still remain to be sledge-hammered down. I'm working on it. But I know how significant the power of communication is in resolving most conflicts. Not just talking "words" but effective LISTENING. Understanding. Compassion. Compromise. Knowing when to choose our battles and knowing when to concede. Obviously, the best outcome is when everybody wins. But that doesn't always happen. And sadly relationships dissolve. Families disintegrate and countries run amuck. All because of barricades.

The American people (and the entire world for that matter) witness the unimaginable chaos in the United States Congress, the lack of true and skillful leadership on the part of all the elected officials in Washington, D.C., including the president in my opinion. And we wonder HOW can they behave so irresponsibly? How can they be so incompetent? How can they be so unyielding, so contemptuous of each other, so egotistical, so unwilling to communicate? Maybe we only have to look at ourselves to understand.


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Unknown said...

this post made me remember back to the "love-ins" of the 70's. A Boomer's reflection well-written.

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